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I admit that the idea of a new Bathory disc filled me with a bit of trepidation after the debacle known as DESTROYER OF WORLDS. Even when initial praise of the album was high, but still I hesitated. EvilG finally gave me the shove I needed to check the album out when NORDLAND I arrived with my latest stack of albums for review.
I am pleased to announce that I was foolish to doubt Quorthon, as he has more than shattered my expectations with his latest masterpiece, NORDLAND I. Yes, to my utter surprise, Quorthon has released an album fit to stand with my two favourite Bathory discs, BLOOD, FIRE, DEATH, and HAMMERHEART.
So what’s in store for the listener on Quorthon’s latest opus? NORDLAND I is a treat for all fans of the Viking-era of Bathory, melding the epic and majestic passages of mid-period Bathory with the crushingly heavy sound of the early works.
The first track on the album, following a brief instrumental intro, is the album’s title track. As the first riffs of “Nordland” come crashing down in the distinct Bathory tone, any fears I had about the album are quickly dispelled. The track progresses at a galloping mid-pace, the rhythm chugging along with a sinister edge as the drums of doom pound all around. In combination with the epic battle choir, Quorthon’s voice takes on a similar choral This is Bathory in its finest! The Vikings are once again on the march, and who better to lead the charge than the originators of Viking metal.
Next up we have two tracks rawer in style, “Vinterblot,” and “Dragon’s Breath.” Both tracks take a slower, doomish approach. The epic chant choirs are still here, but in addition to the fuzzed-up guitar tone and meaty riffs, Quorthon’s voice changes to a ghastly, forced, and straining tone. While I find this a bit hard on the ears, the style fits the mood of both tracks quite well.
Changing styles again in a brilliant move, Quorthon shakes things up again with the next two tracks. “Ring of Gold” is a folky semi-ballad, featuring soft acoustic passages, and clean mellow vocals (as much as Quorthon’s style will allow), accentuated by sound effects such as the sound of a thunderstorm, and loons calling across a deep, cold, foggy Nordic lake. Next up is “Foreverdark Woods,” which begins in much the same folky style, then slides into one of the finest hymns that Bathory has ever recorded. Buzzing guitar tone is offset by its beautiful melodies and the powerful, clean vocals (Quorthon’s best performance to date). This masterpiece, along with the other epics on this album transports me to the northern lands where I wander dark, old-growth forests, feel the cold salt water spray on my face, and fight in battle alongside my Nordic brethren. Yet again, Quorthon proves to be the master of atmosphere and mood with his ability to weave great tales through music and words.
The highlight of the album for me is “Broken Sword,” which lulls the listener into a false sense of security with its short acoustic intro over the sound of waves washing along the shoreline. Without warning, the double bass drumming kicks in full-force. Very fast gallops and brief shreds of solos combine with semi-clean vocals for a killer power metal track, complete with the sounds of swords clashing and horses galloping. Wow. I could get used to this style.
NORDLAND I is among the best works Bathory has ever released. The sound on the album combines the rawness of old with the epic majesty of the Viking-era. Each track is carefully planned and placed so that the entire album flows seamlessly from track to track. Quorthon has turned his downward fall over the past few albums around 666% with one hell of a “comeback,” so to speak. This album is essential to fans of Bathory’s Viking-era, and would even be a great place for a new fan of Bathory to start. I eagerly await NORDLAND II, due out in spring, 2003.
(originally written by me for www.metal-rules.com, February, 2003)